"Iceberg" The Ability to Survive By Penka Monova

in 10th Ankara Flying Broom International Women's Film Festival

by Penka Monova

I am not sure if it’s more fun to skim all cinema genres and end up with a love story that’s comic rather tragic or to navigate film history, taking one’s inspiration from the best silent movies, full of visual beauty and speechless gags. Iceberg (L’Iceberg), shown at the 10th Flying Broom International women’s Film Festival in Ankara, does both. Like a Titanic, this Belgian film has taken on its deck all the old and forgotten movies of cinema’s golden years, and crashes into the iceberg of the drift of daily life in our modern time.

Watching now Buster Keaton’s The Boat and The Navigator, we can see that they’re actually a cut above most contemporary comedies. Except perhaps for Iceberg, which is very similar to the great comedian’s classics in terms of plot, but it has its own achievements as well. Of course, it seems obvious: To be good, really good, a movie ought to combine an innovative approach with the best cinematic traditions. But how could that happen exactly? Is it possible, nowadays? And is anyone even trying to accomplish such a feat?

Iceberg tries to do that, exploring the eloquent choreography of simple body language. Rich in pantomime gags, this movie doesn’t lack for drama, either; it succeeds in observing the comic side of our modern age while recognizing the tragic need for escape that makes us human — to be happy in some other world, somewhere, as far as possible from our own reality. Having said that, I realize it’s not enough for a movie to be pleasant and fun to watch, especially for the professionals. It might seem a little suspicious, or frivolous, that I enjoyed Iceberg. And what if it wants to laugh at our trivial concepts of social life, family, love affairs, and cinema mythology itself with its own ideas for those things, preserved for so many years as in a refrigerator to protect them from others? To parody the classic and love it at the same time.

Indeed, the movie demonstrates a perfect knowledge of film history and ravishing acting; it also has plenty of intelligent subtext available to be read at different levels in the narrative. And last but not least, there is excellent laconic dialogue that fits ideally to the structure. Sometimes the dialogue is missing, in other cases some sentences are repeated two or three times with different intonation, changing their meaning curiously and in quite an unexpected way. But the comic side comes from the visual background, which also recontextualizes the dialogue in a funny way, and very often draws our attention to the disconnect between what the characters say, and what they actually do. What is this new movie about, after all? That’s a good question.

Fiona (co-director Fiona Gordon), manager in a suburban fast-food restaurant, is accidentally locked in the kitchen’s freezer overnight. She manages to survive until the morning, when she is found by her colleagues. Fascinated by ice and her remarkable ability to survive, she becomes obsessed with the freedom to accept and control the challenges of life. This is made easier by the indifference of her husband (co-director Dominique Abel) and children, who hadn’t noticed her absence that night. Hurt a little by that, she buries her face in a pillow and weeps, trying to explain her situation to her husband in an inaudible monologue. He tries to wave it off with a joke, responding through a pillow of his own. It’s not surprising then, when the next day; Fiona impulsively climbs into a truck, and leaves him. In the darkness of the truck she sees many open eyes — the truck is full of black emigrants. They are rejected, but she is accepted in a small town. As her husband searches for her, Fiona meets a sailor. “Sailor! Sailor!” she cries, and it becomes clear that her girlish dream was to meet a handsome sailor. This particular sailor, however, has problems of his own: He hasn’t spoken a word since the drowning death of his family. Every morning he goes fishing and then visits their grave with flowers.

Much like Fiona, he has used the tragedy to overcome his fear of death. He cannot swim, but she teaches him. Then Fiona’s husband arrives, clambering aboard the sailor’s boat named “Titanique”. The rivalry between the two men is ridiculous even more than their daily life and problems. Several times they seem about to die in the sea, but it never quite happens. Fiona gives up on both of them, taking the boat to the North Pole in search of an iceberg. And she finds one, though the cost is high: The iceberg sinks her “Titanique”. She and the two men are saved by an Eskimo woman. The movie actually began with her, promising to tell us the story of how she found her husband. And at the end of the movie, she finds him. Knowing whom she chooses helps us better understand the pleasant and wise humor in this movie. It’s just as nice to happiness sitting right next to you as it is to find it at the North Pole.

Iceberg is a film designed to be easy to watch, and to make its audience happy. And that’s one of the essential reasons cinema exists: To delight us. This very homogeneous movie delights us with the same style from beginning to end. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s been written and directed by a trio of creators–co-stars Gordon and Abel, and Bruno Romy. It’s somewhat less surprising to learn all three have considerable experience in the circus.